Friday 19 July 2019

Zion Knight - Zion Knight (2019)

Country: USA
Style: Melodic Rock
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 19 Apr 2019
Sites: none

Here's a bit of a cheat, given that I'm only supposed to be reviewing 2019 releases here at Apocalypse Later and this album was recorded back in 1991. Well, it was never released, outside of a promo cassette, and it languished on some shelf until April this year, when it saw a long overdue release by 20th Century Music.

I hadn't heard about it until this morning's Raised on Rock radio show (on 10 Radio last night in the UK) when Chris Franklin, purveyor of all things melodic, played the opening track, Maiden Voyage. I liked the song and dug the story so I dug a little deeper. Zion Knight, who hailed from Florida, I believe, rather than the expected Jerusalem, given the name, were another one off band for vocalist David Mikael, the singer for MPG and regular name on other one off AOR releases for bands like Thunderbox, Presence, As Is, Tin House and more. He also plays bass and keyboards.

Frankly, I liked his bass work here, though he's a better singer. His voice has been compared to some of the best in his genre, often people like Eric Martin or Lou Gramm, and I can see that, but he also pulls out a little Dio on points in Rock Rules the Knight and some Sean Harris on Sweet Searcher. He's very good at what he does and, frankly, I just wish I could hear what he does better, because one reason why this may not have been released back in 1991 is that he's far too low in the mix.

While I liked the opener, I found that the album got more interesting as it ran on. What really sold me on Zion Knight was Cry of the Dove, a couple of songs into the album. I liked the whole song, including the heartfelt vocal, an adjective that's a good thing in AOR, but the overlays were gorgeous, at the beginning and at the end. The titular dove coos and frolics with what I think might be cymbals or some sort of keyboard flourish, with a dark bass underpinning them. It's a really neat sound and the guitar solo it sets up soars beautifully.

It didn't just sell me on the band but on their versatility as well. Sweet Searcher was the next standout for me, as it aims for real depth. It wasn't just David Mikael's voice that reminded me of Diamond Head but the way that the track was constructed and how the guitars of Roderick Gray-Lewis were eager to explore and build while he's singing. And I'm thinking Canterbury-era Diamond Head, by the way, when they were even more unfairly overlooked. Somehow it helps that it sounds like Zion Knight recorded this one outside in the rain. It's gorgeous.

No AOR band could survive back in 1991 without at least a pair of standout radio friendly singles and I'd suggest that Bad Disposition could be the first such here and Lady of My Dreams the follow up. Thirty years on, I'm starting to hear singles from this era show up on my local classic rock station and it wouldn't be a hardship to hear Bad Disposition three times a day.

The downsides are obvious from moment one. The production isn't great, even for 1991, let alone for 2019. The introduction, titled The Warrior, is told with cheesy language and an even cheesier voice. The drummer's name is Chip Micronus, which surely can't be real. This doesn't sound like the work of a drum machine, but Chip Micronus has to be either that or the villain in an especially bad episode of the Power Rangers.

And, of course, the record is 28 frickin' years late. I'm glad it's finally getting a release, even in a limited edition of 500 copies. But I'm glad to be hearing it and I hope you are too.

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